Warsaw See And Do
6 Al Ujazdowski
Tel: 48 22 625 0522
The Ujazdowski Castle in Warsaw's southern park district is home to a vibrant museum centered on living Polish artists. With no permanent collection, it's impossible to guess what will be on display from year to year, but a general emphasis on video and photography seems to be consistent. Recent exhibitions included a reinterpretation of Le Corbusier's mass housing projects by multiple artists, including film and photographic reconstructions. Like this exhibit, others tend to center on the intersection of Western European ideas and Polish experience. The museum occupies three floors of the castle, and while its emphasis on video can be overwhelming, it's a compelling, fascinating look at an increasingly vibrant art scene.
Open Tuesdays through Sundays 11 am to 7 pm.
This part of Warsaw was depicted with unsettling clarity by Roman Polanski in his Oscar-winning film The Pianist, in which the piano-playing hero, Wladyslaw Szpilman, survived this ghetto. There is no sign of the actual houses, but on Umschlagplatz (the name the Nazis gave meaning "deportation point"), where 300,000 Jews were loaded onto cattle cars bound for Treblinka, there's a memorial designed to resemble an open railcar.
1 Pl. Bankowy
Tel: 48 22 620 2725
The biographies of this gallery's collectors, Janina and Zbigniew Carroll-Porczynski, are even more impressive than any of the famous paintings housed here. The Russians sent Janina to Siberia and the Germans sent her husband to Auschwitz, but they both survived to gather nearly 400 works by many of the major names in European painting. All the usual suspects are hereRubens, Rembrandt, Van Gogh, and Van Dyckbut the gallery is absurdly sleepy. Elderly attendants follow you into each room to turn the lights on and then turn them off again as you leave.
Nowy Swiat, which translates to "New World," is Warsaw's liveliest thoroughfare and connects the Royal Castle to Wilanow Palace (www.wilanow-palac.art.pl/index_en.php). Wide pavements are awash with courting couples ambling from bar to bar, along with people strolling around and scoping out the 19th-century architecture, chic boutiques, lazy cafés, and bustling restaurants, such as Sense. Check out the gardens surrounding the beautiful Wilanow Palace, and stop inside to browse through the exhibits—highlights include a collection of Polish portraiture dating from the 16th to the 19th centuries.
Warsaw's Old Town is one of Europe's most extraordinary feats of reconstruction. The Old Town wasn't just badly damaged—it was deliberately obliterated by the Nazis, who knew how much it meant to patriotic Poles. The Nowe Miasto (New Town) to the north, beyond the medieval city walls, is just as picturesque, but with a fraction of the tourist traffic. Like Edinburgh's New Town, it's not new at all, merely neoclassical rather than Renaissance.
1 Pl. Defilad
Tel: 48 22 656 6000
The Palace of Culture and Sciences was in theory a gift from Stalin, in practice an omnipotent symbol of Soviet supremacy. The palace feels like an ancient relic and Cold War souvenir (giant statues of heroic workers guard its portals). Ride the elevator to the observation deck on the 30th floor, where the view over the city is impressive; the ground floor of this Stalinist temple has become a showcase for Western culture, and the huge congress hall, once a venue for Communist party functions, now hosts Warsaw's two annual jazz festivals.